Islamic influence on American Architecture (Article)

Islamic influence on American Architecture (Article) October 8, 2010




Frank Lloyd Wright's Islamically influenced Marin County Civic Center


Islamic influence on the Design of the World Trade Center

Spanish Moor (Islamic) Influence on the Alamo

Lately, there has been a lot of misinformation and hatred toward Islam and Muslims being spewed out by major media outlets, which in turn has caused a lot of fear in the minds of many Americans about Muslims and thus many mosque projects across the country from New York to Tennessee to California are being criticized and sometimes even attacked by arsonists and vandalism.  So it may be helpful to give a little background on Muslims in America, specifically from an Architectural perspective, to help dispel some of this misinformation and fear which some people may have.

First a little history: Before the discovery of North America, many Spanish explorers, who were influenced greatly by Arab and Muslim culture (since Spain was ruled by Muslims for over 700 years), brought with them Moorish (Muslim) style Architecture to the New World.  This very distinct Islamic style architecture can be seen in many of the Spanish Missions across the United States – the most notable one is “The Alamo” in San Antonio Texas.  The Alamo has an “Alfiz” – a rectangular overhang that frames the entire doorway.  This Alfiz was introduced in Spain in the 8th century via the Aljama Mosque.[1] The interior of the Alamo also had geometric patterns of flowers and pomegranates, which had been painted over by the US Army in the mid 1800’s, but were uncovered in 2000.  Bruce Winders, Alamo’s official historian, believed these frescoes resembled the geometric forms of Moorish (Muslim) art  and architecture.[2] Some other examples of Spanish Moor (Islamic) influenced Architecture in the United States include the Mission San Jose in San Antonio, Texas, the San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona and Mission San Carlos in Carmel, CA.

Islamic Architecture greatly influenced many of the great Architects of the United States, which can be seen in some of their most well known buildings. For example here in the S.F. Bay Area, there is the Marin County Civic Center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Wright designed the building after his trip to Baghdad in the 1950’s.  The Building has a dome, minaret-like antenna and arches. Although it is in San Rafael, the building was designed for natural air cooling similar to buildings in the Middle East.

Interesting to note, the Architect of the World Trade Center, Minoru Yamasaki was commissioned to design the Dhahran Airport in Saudi Arabia in 1961 and a few years later began design on the WTC in which he incorporated some elements of Islamic Architecture such as the pointed arch structural system at the base and an open courtyard flanked by tall towers (similar to the Mosque of the Ka’aba in Saudi Arabia with a large courtyard and tall minarets).

Today, some people do not want a Mosque to be built near “Ground Zero,” yet Ironically there was already a Muslim “prayer space” in the 17th floor of the South Tower[3] which was also destroyed along with many innocent Muslims who worked in the WTC on that tragic day of Sept. 11th, 2001.  Many Muslim First-Responders, Police officers and Firefighters also died that day trying to save their fellow Americans.

In conclusion , Muslims have been a part of America in one way or the other from it’s very beginning.  Historians have determined that as many as 30% of the African Slaves brought to America were originally Muslim.  One of the first recorded mosques in North American history was on Kent Island, Md started by former slave and Islamic Scholar Job Ben Solomon between 1731 and 1733.[4] Today there are more than 2,000 places of Muslim prayer, most of them mosques, in the United States.[5] Islam and Muslims in America are here to stay, and it is time we learn about each other to create a better understanding, rather than continue to spew ignorance and misinformation which only leads to fear and hatred of each other.

[1] Al’ America: Travels Through America’s Arab & Islamic Roots by Jonathan Curiel, pg. 10.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Muslims and Islam were part of Twin Tower’s Life” by Samuel Freedman in the NY Times, Sept. 10, 2010

[4] “Five Myths about Mosques” by Edward Curtis IV in the Washington Post, Aug. 29, 2010

[5] Ibid.

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